St. Petersburg: The Myth and the City Essay

St. Petersburg: The Myth and the City Essay

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St. Petersburg: The Myth and the City

In “The Nose” and “The Overcoat,” Gogol makes fun of the rank-conscious Russian society. In “The Overcoat,” he emphasizes the phony world of Russian officials, who are powerless mediators under a hierarchy in which each person fears his superior. Of the two stories, “The Nose” is lighter-hearted and more comedic. On the surface, it is a humorous story about a government official literally losing his nose and searching for it. For much of the time, Gogol makes fun at the official’s expense. In many passages much is stated comically about how stratified Russian society was at the time.
Gogol skillfully portrays not just Kovalyov as being an self-important minor official, but also of Kovalyov’s missing nose, first found to be with the barber Ivan Yakovlevich. Gogol further uses the possibilities of this societal satire on wealth and privilege when Kovalyov’s nose decides to have a few adventures.
Suddenly he stopped dead near the entrance door of a house. An incredible sequence of events unrolled before his eyes. A carriage stopped at the house entrance. Its door opened. A uniformed gentleman appeared. Stooping, he jumped out of the carriage, ran up the steps and entered the house. A combination of horror and amazement swept over Kovalev when he recognized the stranger as his own nose. At this eerie sight, everything swayed before his eyes. But although he could hardly stand on his feet, he felt compelled to wait until the nose returned to the carriage. He waited, shaking as though he had malaria. (Gogol, 42)
This story may seem solely comedic, but within it is a darker tale of a Russia where, in the current times and those prior to it, social rank and position were key. ...


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...s tale turns into an attack on the ridiculous, heartless nature of Russian society – especially Russian in civil service. Gogol portrays the trivialness of this through the use of distinct contrasts, mostly between how the poor official in this tale sees his prized overcoat, and how his fellow workers view it, and him, with scorn and mocking laughter. It is not a pleasant tale, and there is no happy ending. But it is effective in how well it presents the absurdities of life at this time in St. Petersburg.
“The Nose” and “The Overcoat,” along with Gogol’s other stories in the collection, are early representatives of comedic social commentary. Not only does Gogol engage the reader with components of Russian society, especially the major gap between the privileged people and the commoners, but he utilizes comedy to highlight the absurdity of this social polarization.

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